Ritter is Best in Close Contest at Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals East
RELEASE: October 9, 2007
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Joanie Morris
Nikko Ritter rode Clover Count to victory at the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals East (Jennifer Wenzel)
- Take some flatwork, add some gymnastic jumping exercises, send all the riders over a carefully designed course, then have the top four riders switch horses and over the course of two days, a very prestigious title is handed out. Welcome to the Platinum Performance//USEF Talent Search Final. Fortunately, in sharp contrast to its West Coast counterpart, the Eastern Finals boasted fabulous weather and perfect conditions. The rain held off and 82 talented riders showed up at the USET Headquarters October 6-7 to contest the prestigious Final.
Saturday played host to the flatwork and gymnastics portions, during the course of which the standings changed considerably. Kyle Wolf won the flatwork portion but that lead was relinquished during the gymnastics phase which brought excellent performances by Addison Phillips, Kimberly McCormack and Nikko Ritter. After the second phase, less than two points separated the top three. Phillips, 18 from New York, NY, led the pack on her own Flight, a 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding, at the end of Saturday’s competition.
Sunday morning brought the third phase, a difficult course which included a combination of liverpools and an open water fence. Addison stretched her lead to a runaway 410.75 by the end of the third phase. Kimberly McCormack and Nikko Ritter swapped the second and third spots after Sunday morning’s jumping, with 19-year-old Ritter, from Geneva, FL picking up the second highest score after the first three phases. Riding 18-year-old Clover Count, an Irish-bred gelding owned by Linda Bakker, Ritter landed on a score of 395. McCormack from Clermont, NJ put in a determined performance with Althone Partners’ Hetoile Platiere, a 12-year-old Selle Francais mare and held on to her spot in the top three with a score of 392.
With a score of 389.25 rounding out the top four was the youngest rider of the quartet, Jessica Springsteen, who jumped up from tenth to fourth with a polished performance riding Deneuve. Springsteen, only 14, rides locally from her Colts Neck, NJ home. Deneuve is a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Stone Hill Farm.
These top four riders returned after the lunch break to jump another course on their own horses and then the same course on each of their competitors’ mounts. Based on the format used at the World Championships, the competition continues to test a unique variety of skills. The scores from the first three rounds are thrown out and all four riders start again on zero. Each rider rode solid, polished rounds on their own horses and then began handing the reins to each other.
Amazingly, after the first two rotations, all four riders were tied on a score of 176.
Eight more trips over a course thoughtfully designed by judges McLain Ward (who himself won the Talent Search Finals East in 1990) and Jimmy Torano left the judges with some difficult decisions. The four competitors didn’t make life easy for the judges.
“Picking the winner today was very hard,” said Ward at the end of the afternoon. “All four of these riders could win on any given day. It’s a credit to them, the horses, their parents and their trainers.”
Torano echoed the sentiment, “It was a privilege for us to judge these riders.”
Ritter jumped three consistent rounds, scoring an 89 on his own horse and 87s on both Hettoile Platiere and Deneuve. He then all but sealed a victory for himself with a score of 92 on Phillips’ Flight. His final score in the Ride-Off was 355, which gave him a comfortable lead, but he was the first rider in the rotation so he had to wait to ensure that his score held up. The other three riders got close but at the end of the competition, Ritter’s experience riding lots of horses on a daily basis paid off. The versatility of his technique was evident as he seamlessly turned in quality performances.
“I spent the summer in Germany and they drilled on the flatwork,” said Ritter. “I’ve been at home since riding lots of different horses.”
Ritter’s next step is to the grand prixes and he is looking forward to turning professional later this year.
“This was always my favorite final,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to win it. You really have to be able to do it all, the flatwork and the gymnastics.”
Phillips has been second at the Talent Search Finals twice, third twice, fifth and sixth and it looked to be hers to lose going into the final four. But consistency held up and ironically it was Ritter’s round on her horse that sealed his win. She finished just behind Ritter on a score of 351. She has won this class in other venues, but the big win of the USEF Showjumping Talent Search has always eluded her. Phillips is a class act, and destined for a great future in the sport, and handles her second place with a positive attitude.
“It’s been my sixth year here and I’ve done well every time,” Phillips said, explaining why she wouldn’t be returning next year. “I’d like to win some grand prixes. This teaches you all the fundamentals you need in the grand prixes.”
Springsteen’s first trip (and third place finish on a score of 342) to the final four was made even more memorable after Deneuve was awarded the Grappa Trophy. Donated by Sarah Willeman, in honor of Grappa, a horse who won seven major finals and was retired last year from competition, the trophy is given to the best horse determined by the judges after the final four.
Fourth place finisher, McCormack had never witnessed the experience of the horse swap in the final four, let alone experienced it. She ended up just behind Springsteen on a score of 338.
“It was a real challenge to ride the other horses,” said McCormack. “It was a good learning experience for next year.”
McCormack and Springsteen will not be alone in their quest to return to the Final, riders try to qualify and many return year after year. The proving ground for some of the best riders in the sport draws young riders from across the country to either one of the coasts each fall. Along with Ward, past winners of the Talent Search Final include 2007 Pan American Team Bronze medalist Lauren Hough and European Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.